Getting the measure of the retail mix

New technology means that the online and offline retail worlds are almost on a collision course for some retailers and FMCG brands. Six experts discuss the issues with Lucy Handley

The peer panel

Roisin Donnelly (RD) Corporate marketing director and head of marketing, Procter & Gamble UK & Ireland
Kathryn Leak (KL) Head of ecommerce, Oxfam
Marc Petring (MP) Marketing and PR manager, Dwell
Ben Hart (BH) Head of ecommerce, Evans Cycles
Kathryn Middleton (KM) Group marketing manager, Thorntons Direct
Phillip Rinn (PR) Director of advertising partnerships, eBay Advertising UK and EME

Marketing Week (MW) How are you getting the most out of the retail opportunities online and in store?

Kathryn Leak

Kathryn Leak (KL):

We sell donated products via our ecommerce platform, so are set up to mirror the experience of our bricks-and-mortar stores online. Some Oxfam shops select donated items to list on the site and send these out as web orders, so the stock on our site is representative of what is in a shop.

We have recently introduced a new till system to manage our Tag Your Bag Gift Aid scheme [where people who donate goods to shops include their details for Gift Aid to be reclaimed on money raised from their donations]. We collect their name and address and the reference number lets us track donated stock.

Roisin Donnelly

Roisin Donnelly (RD):

The key to this is balance. We want to be present and effective wherever consumers seek to learn about or buy our brands. This means on our own website, on retailer sites and in store. It’s not enough just to have products available for purchase, you need to educate, inform and entertain. Shopping for great brands, whether online or in store, should be an experience and we need to tailor it for consumers across both channels.


Kathryn Middleton (KM): Thorntons wants customers to shop “cross-channel” and have a seamless and fun

brand experience. We are working to align our back-end systems to get a single view of our customers and serve them in a relevant way.

For example, we recently launched a transactional mobile site for our top-selling products. Customer insights gleaned from this are shared throughout the business. We are developing the ability to track the customer journey leading to a purchase.


Marc Petring (MP):

As a multichannel retailer, it’s very important that shopping is easy across the web, in our stores or through our catalogue. We use live stock checking and can see customer transactions in real-time, which is essential if we are to get the most out of each channel. We can accurately track what customers are doing in Dwell stores versus online, and react accordingly.


Ben Hart (BH): We know that customers use both [online and retail] channels for research and purchase. Although some people research in

store and purchase online – particularly when buying a bicycle – it’s more common for them to use the website first to compare products and read reviews. Prominent links to our stores help customers buy online and collect in store.

Tracking in store versus online is tricky – if not impossible – in many cases. We are looking at ways to better understand the relationship between visitors to our website and store customers and the influence it has.

MW: How are you making sure people remain loyal to your brand?

BH: Loyalty has to be earned more than ever. It’s increasingly easy for people to be exposed to competitors online and pricing is transparent.

But price isn’t everything and there is a lot to be said for providing good customer service. We’re investing in CRM systems and technology to get closer to customers.

We’re also developing experiences for our customers such as our Ride It! series of organised cycle rides and free Fix It! maintenance training in store.

RD: The difficult economic period we’ve been through has reaffirmed our commitment to brand-building. Consumers demand and reward innovation, so in the recession we launched Ariel Excel Gel in the laundry market, Olay Regenerist in skin care and Clairol Perfect 10 in hair colour. These are premium lines that have become best sellers.

We also have to sustain the base business and this also requires innovation. In laundry, traditional powder detergents still make up 40% of the market and so when we launched Actilift stain treatment technology on Ariel, it was across the full range – powders, gels and liquids.


Phillip Rinn (PR):

Buying habits change frequently as emerging technologies take hold at startling rates. Consumers want to be able to shop online from wherever they are, which is why eBay has been developing mobile commerce and our fixed price format [with the option to “buy it now” rather than bid on an item], which now accounts for more of our business than auction.

KL: Oxfam has loyal supporters and we are constantly reviewing and improving our customer service standards. We take care to maintain quality on second-hand and new products. We try to appeal to different customers’ lifestyles via our product ranges and shop formats, which include boutiques and bookshops.

MW: What are you doing to acquire new customers?

MP: Our retail stores network is expanding, which means we will widen our reach and acquire new customers. We’ll also use online and offline promotional activity to support these store openings. Our “refer a friend” scheme helps Dwell acquire new customers of the right type.

KM: We aim to acquire customers from all channels and work hard to tailor messages and products to various audiences in these sectors. A key development has been increased visibility of our chocolates in supermarkets. We also have 4,000 fans on Facebook and about 500 followers on Twitter, which is a great way to find out what customers love – or dislike – about Thorntons.

KL: We use paid search, display and affiliates as part of digital marketing to drive traffic to our site and we email supporters on our database to promote offers. Partnerships with corporates have helped us to attract new audiences, such as the Marks & Spencer and Oxfam Clothes Exchange. [Where people can bring in old M&S clothing in exchange for a £5 voucher that can be redeemed at the high street department store.] We also take shops out to customers, such as our pop-up store in Selfridges, which aims to change public perception of Oxfam shops.

We are looking at ways to better understand the relationship between visitors to our website and store customers
Ben Hart, Evans Cycles

PR: In April, we launched the eBay Fashion Outlet from high-street retailers and brands such as Kookai, Argos and Tesco, at an average 70% off the recommended retail price. These retailers focus on new and fixed price products with fast delivery and good returns policies, which is what buyers want.

We also have deals through our weekly and daily deals programme. This attracts a new kind of buyer – fashion lovers who want quality brands. In turn, fashion labels such as Superdry and Karen Millen are advertising on eBay.

BH: We’re spending more time and resources focusing on existing customers to make sure that once they’ve been bitten by the cycling bug they keep coming back.

MW: If you have a transactional website, what are you doing to make shopping on the internet easier?

MP: We try to replicate the in-store shopping experience online by giving the customer as much choice as possible. We use features such as guided search, a related product search and let people buy a whole look in our “live like this” section. Customers can also book a delivery slot and speak to a Dwell store for advice.

RD: Online content that’s engaging is a great way to build on traditional, above-the-line campaigns to reach all our consumers wherever and whenever they are most receptive.

The innovation section on the P&G corporate site shows all the science behind the brands and new products. It includes stories of how the brand is improving lives around the world.

PR: Consumers want to find brands online quickly, easily and they want great deals. We are targeting specific buyer segments via our outlets such as Fashion Outlet and also motoring with our Motoring Services Hub, which launched this year.

A wide selection is also important; it’s not just about offering the latest models. Retailers should have their full range available online and ideally an extended offer. A lot of merchants only offer the latest products, but on eBay you can also find earlier models, like older BlackBerry handsets still new, but 30-40% cheaper.

KL: We’re constantly updating our ecommerce platform. For example, we brought in overseas shipping earlier this year and the next 12 to 18 months will see us significantly redevelop our online shop; we’re carrying out customer research at the moment to feed into this.

KM: We regularly develop our website with the sole aim of making customers’ journeys easy, intuitive and fun. So we look at the statistics behind our traffic and make tweaks, and occasionally, big changes. As a gifting service, we try to help our customers remember key dates and suggest products based on their previous choices.

BH: We’re constantly evolving the Evans Cycles site and are looking at improving the navigation to make shopping online a more interesting and social experience.

MW: What new technologies or strategies are you testing out?

RD: The way we communicate with consumers is evolving, but we are always looking to engage and entertain them in a more interactive way.

We’ve had success with initiatives such as the Roger Federer trickshot [where Federer appears to serve a tennis ball to knock a can off a crew member’s head twice in a row, during filming for a Gillette campaign].

Technology is also helping us work with retailers to better serve shoppers in store and online. Our shopper research facility helps us understand consumer behaviour, their response to store and shelf layouts, promotions and marketing materials.

Virtualisation technology gives us fast response insights into shopper behaviour and how to optimise the in-store environment. We’ll use this to improve today’s shopping environment and help to build future stores.

KM: Recent developments include the launch of a transactional mobile site, our social media profile and our business-to-business transactional site. A key strategy for Thorntons is personalisation, so both B2C and B2B customers can choose their chocolates, box colours and message, and upload photos or logos online.

KL: This year we’ve tested a number of things, such as the Tales of Things project in our Manchester shop, which used radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to allow people to record the story of the item they are donating. Shoppers can then “see” the stories by waving an RFID reader or Bluetooth wand next to the item. We are exploring the possibility of installing terminals in shops where customers can access Oxfam’s online shop.

PR: We launched the eBay iPhone app early last year, which includes PayPal, and the BlackBerry app in June this year. Mobile is now the fastest growing channel, with more than £375m worth of goods sold on the site in 2009.

More Brits shop through the eBay app than anywhere else in Europe, accounting for 64% of the items bought through the eBay app this side of the Atlantic. They bought more items through the app in one month than French consumers purchased in the whole of 2009.

MW: Can you give an example of something you have done this year in response to a customer insight?

MP: Our customers wanted to be able to experience the products in the in-store environment, get the relevant advice and receive a quote for products that they are interested in, but without necessarily buying immediately. They wanted to be able to go online, using their quote number to complete purchases, so we developed our systems to enable this to happen.

BH: We used our social channels to ask Evans’ customers what they wanted to hear from us. They said they want content that is more relevant to them, so we are currently embarking on a trial to produce more “interest group-based” email content.

KM: We have launched product ratings and reviews, which have given us great insights into what customers love about our chocolates, toffee and fudges, particularly the flavours. Strawberry and cream flavoured fudge is very popular.

KL: The launch of the Vintage section on our online shop was in response to a customer insight. We’d known for some time that searches using the term “vintage” were on the increase, so we created a vintage hub on the site.

We use this to promote our product, highlight key trends and host a fashion blog to showcase other activity such as Oxfam being at the Vintage at Goodwood festival.

MW: How will the balance of your marketing budget change next year versus this?

KL: The balance in the past few years has changed as we’ve introduced new, non-shop activities, such as experiential, event marketing and digital. We have a growing database of supporters with whom we hope to start building relationships, mostly through email marketing.

As for online, the shift will be in what types of digital marketing we’re doing, for example the move to spend more on display advertising as we aim to increase awareness of the online Oxfam shop, versus traditionally spending on pay-per-click. We expect affiliate marketing to grow next year and predict a corresponding uplift in spend on this area.

KM: We’ll be looking to increase our spend in supplementary materials, such as social media initiatives or mobile apps to support our core campaigns.

BH: There won’t be a huge shift, but the big thing we want to consider is the true value we are deriving from our online marketing channels rather than the old-fashioned “last click wins” approach. This insight will change the way our online marketing channels support each other.


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